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Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel
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on September 17, 2016
This is the first novel by Butler, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and I’m already yearning for his next one. We are all given gifts by the Holy Spirit but Butler got double portions in creative writing and inspiration. This is one of those writers for which my pen cannot do justice, cannot capture his brilliance, which is not to say that this is a perfect novel. Far from it, it suffers from many shortcomings, but what a start he has made and what a career awaits.

Set in a small town near Eau Claire close childhood friends marry each other, raise families, or leave town to make their fortunes in the big city but keep returning to the small town, drawn by the real friends they made in childhood, sometimes to recharge their batteries, sometimes as an ego thing, to shown their chums that they have outdone the pitiful future allotted to them in their senior class yearbook. But where there are life-long friendships there are accidents, resentments, betrayals and missteps unforgiven that festoon the road to happiness that lies before them. And, of course, woe to the outsider, who tries to spread money around to capture some of this childhood happiness. In this town, that is reserved for the natives.

But one book they must not study too closely at Iowa is Aristotle’s On Poetics that explained what a writer must do and what he mustn’t. There is no particular plot, per se, in this book but a collection of short stories only loosely connected to each other such as one might write as homework for tomorrow’s class. Obvious consequences of previous commitments are blithefully ignored in the welcoming beckon of new opportunity. A dairy farmer leaves for a long weekend and we hear more about what he’s packing for the trip than we do about who will milk the cows. In fact, so far as we know, he owns a peculiar breed of dairy cattle that do not need to be milked. Too many things happen in this book seemingly by chance, not as convincing consequences. Aristotle would be fuming.

But there is a kindness toward all characters that subsumes this book, where no one is glorified or demonized, making this a feel good read even if the corrective surgery seems awkwardly done or leaves scars. This is a book that will make you feel blessed for your friends, and, if you are lucky, a loving spouse, and a book that can do that is a good book.
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on October 23, 2017
"With his debut novel, SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, Nickolas Butler has crafted one of the most heartfelt, compassionate portrayals of Midwestern life in recent memory. The narrative jumps chapter-to-chapter from the viewpoint of the each of the main characters, showcasing Butler's uncanny knack for getting inside the minds—and hearts—of his rural-bred ensemble. Most impressive is the incredible empathic connection the author has with the people that populate his fictional town of Little Wing, Wisconsin.

The characters who make up SHOTGUN LOVESONGS are far from stereotypical, as can often be the case in stories about the American heartland. These individuals see, feel, and love one another, all of which is done with master storytelling craft by Butler. The emotional depth of each of these vastly different characters is stunning and their actions and thoughts always feel genuine.

When it comes to describing the rural cornfields and the often-past-their-prime cities that make up the Midwest, Butler hits the rusty nail on its head. His Little Wing, WI is another reader's Romeo, Michigan, or Hopewell, Ohio, or Glanea, Illinois—the places that many of us grew up and either left long ago but never forgot, or still lovingly call home. Friends, family, and honesty are at the core of this amazing book, and it is one that will have you pining not for a world long past, but fully aware of the here and now, and the incredible power of community."
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on March 7, 2014
Set in rural Wisconsin, Shotgun Lovesongs tells the story of four men, and one woman, renegotiating the meaning of friendship, love and home.

Five characters share the narrative in alternating chapters. Hank – who inherited his father’s farm, Beth – Hank’s wife, Lee – an international music artist, Kip – a successful broker and Ronny -an injured rodeo star. These people speak and we think that we know them, who they are and what they dream of, but each are capable of surprising us as the story unfolds.

I have read few books that feature male friendship, and it was something that I really enjoyed about Shotgun Lovesongs. The bonds this group formed in childhood remain intact through a decade of physical separation and sporadic contact, but when they reunite in Little Wing they learn none of them are the boys they once were and their relationships with each other are now complicated by the men they have become.

The community of Little Wing in rural Wisconsin is vividly portrayed. I could easily imagine Kip’s mill looming over the town, the car park full of battered pick-ups, weathered men leaning on the bar in the VWF hall and tractors traversing the the open farmland.

While tempers may flare, the conflict in Shotgun Lovesongs is largely personal and the drama is subdued. The pace of the story is measured and thoughtful, emphasising emotion over action. I found the writing and dialogue to be simple and honest yet descriptive and affecting.

Shotgun Lovesongs is an understated yet heartfelt novel, an ode to friendship, to love and to family. It is a story about finding your way home, where ever that may be.
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on March 14, 2014
Shotgun Lovesongs is a little unusual among the books that I read in that it actually made me happy! No intense conflict, no over dramatization, no ridiculous plot twists (although there was a scene in the last couple of chapters that was a little over-the-top). Just a nice story about a group of lifelong friends and how their relationship to each other and to their town changes with time and changes in circumstance.

The reason for 4 stars instead of 5 is that this book is divided into chapters based on who is narrating, but there was really no way of distinguishing one voice from another. I felt like if the story was going to be told from different perspectives, there should be some difference in voice.

But a nice debut nonetheless. Should drum up some business for Wisconsin tourism!
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on November 30, 2014
You know how a book can totally take you away from your own troubles and put you somewhere else? This book did that. There is a sense of place, a small town in Wisconsin called "Little Wing." And characters drawn to be so familiar that you have known them all or life and at the same time just met them.

But I think what makes this such an extraordinary work is the thread of wistfulness, a longing that runs just below the surface and what happens when that thread breaks. There is a moment in this wonderful story when a guy is, you the reader fear, just about to tell the woman he loves her. And in that moment, I literally shouted out, "No! Don't say it!"

The other commuters on the train looked up and saw I didn't appear crazy. I felt a little stupid. But it passed.

This book will not pass. You'll remember it. A wonderful story!
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on February 6, 2016
I really enjoyed this book. The writing is compelling and lyrical without ever trying too hard. The characters are well drawn, even the minor ones, with a deftness that is spare but perfect. The book started slow for me, but I found myself sucked into the lives of the characters and the wild of Wisconsin with something approaching urgency as the book progressed. I thought I would be sad when it was over, but instead I felt a contentment and satisfaction that one does not often get when finishing a great book. I felt pleased to have known Henry, Beth, Lee and Ronny and even Kip and it makes me smile to think these archetypes are out there living good, sometimes fractured, honest lives. Thoroughly recommend.
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on April 4, 2014
Lovesongs is a big-hearted tale of four high school friends from a rural Wisconsin town, and their seemingly unavoidable bond to each other and their hometown. It is also the story of a small town struggling to exist in nation of urban sophistication and corporate farming. The four friends, their wives and lovers take turns telling the story, which is a terrific way to reveal the character of each without slowing down the narrative. Butler is a confident, straight-forward and sincere storyteller whose writing betrays a love of the land and the people who inhabit it. Of all the great passages, this line sticks out. It is from Kip, who now lives in Chicago but misses the country and occasionally bolts straight west into rural Illinois, "past greasy truck stops and junkyards, past towns with nothing to show for their efforts." If you've driven through those dying farm towns, this line rings true.

The only reason I don't give Lovesongs five stars is no doubt a stupid one: After a while, I found the description and internal dialogue of the characters a bit tedious. In fairness, I have that problem with many great books and so it can be chalked up to a matter of personal taste. I'm an impatient person and this is an atmospheric novel that allows itself to breathe.

I definitely look foward to Butler's next novel.
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on July 9, 2014
Slow to start off, I almost gave up on this book. I'm glad I didn't, because everything after Kip's wedding was worth it. Never having any real definition, I didn't like Kip's story. In the latter half of the book, watching each story unfold and then tangle together with ruthless accuracy, I started rooting for them. Prayed it would all fall in all right, but enjoying the mess, nonetheless. Each character became defined and essential, as I fell in love with each person and their story. The ending, like the beginning, was blasé. I left unfulfilled and will always wish for a better resolution between the friends. However, it ends like real friendships do, quickly, yet painfully... Longed for and never forgotten.
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on May 16, 2014
If giving it 4 & 1/2 stars were an option, I would give it that but since it wasn't I gave it 5 stars.

It's the story of small-town school friends and how their relationships continue into their mid-30s in spite of some becoming very successful, and others ending up middle-of-the-road or even down-and-out, success-wise. There seems to be a gravity to the relationships that they developed in elementary school and high school that keeps bringing them back to their small town and back into each others lives for better or worse.

This is the first book that I've read by Nickolas Butler. The style reminds me of a younger, hipper Richard Russo (I've read three or four of Russo's novels before).
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on September 10, 2016
Novel that evokes life in a small Wisconsin town .4 boyhood friends,now adults, reunite for a wedding. They have had very different paths. but there is an unmistakable bond that links them. The author makes the weather an important factor= the heat of summer, the crunch of leaves, the quiet of snow= wonderful descriptive passages..
This is Mr. Butler's first book= he has set a high bar for his next work. Rare to give 5 stars to a novice writer, but book catches one off guard and is a great read.
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